Discussions of spirituality have long been missing from the discourse on contemporary art. This act of erasure limits our perception of the art we seek to embrace. It imposes a Western, secular lens on the work of Asian American and other marginalized artists who evoke faith traditions. Skewing away from this lens allows space for an eruption of multiple cultural, gender, and psychic layers, dual consciousness, traversing borders, and integrating fragments of self otherwise obscured by opaque whiteness. By “whiteness” we mean the blankness and emptiness, not only of canvas or paper, but of white supremacy culture, which is too often assumed to be the default around which all other identifications are constructed. If we counter the void of blankness with the liminality of Being Asian in the West, the simultaneous paradox quakes into enraptured and embodied dualities present in Asian American art and discourse. We have long reckoned with in-betweenness in many areas—culture, food, social standing, personal identity, etc.—what does it mean to engage with it spiritually? It means that we lean into our liminality and enroot unique ways of being—through border breaking and recognizing in betweenness as a pathway of strength and inceptive wholeness.
Through a discussion of Jen’s work as shamanistic ritual and Sharon’s studies in Buddhist meditation, our proposed dialogue will delineate a path toward a more holistic understanding of how Asian American art might function outside or in spite of dominant, Western, Enlightenment concepts of individuality. Many faith traditions channel a longing for union (or reunion) with a higher being, or a beloved community. This impulse was once central to art, but is now often sidelined in discussions of contemporary art. From an inceptive recentering on this spiritual dimension, we can pass through a gateway into untilled fields in search of ineffable energies and their influence on identity, wholeness, truth, and inter-being.